One Fine Day at Duke

In the Duke University Libraries, there’s no such thing as a typical day on the job. They’re all a little extraordinary.

By Aaron Welborn
Photography by Janelle Hutchinson

It couldn’t be a lovelier September day. Out on the terrace behind Perkins Library, an upper-level political science seminar is underway (above), taking advantage of the mild weather to have class al fresco.

Meanwhile, over on East Campus, first-year students are lining up outside Lilly Library for free ice cream, the bait to lure them inside for an Academic Resources Open House (below), where representatives from Duke’s many student support services are handing out helpful information and free swag.

And inside Smith Warehouse, Nestor Lovera Nieto, a visiting scholar with Duke’s Center for the History of Political Economy, helps to process materials from a recent acquisition, the papers of American economist Jack Treynor (below). Treynor’s papers are part of the Economists’ Papers Archive in the Rubenstein Library, the largest assemblage of papers by modern economists in the world, including many Nobel Prize winners.

In this issue of our magazine, we offer a snapshot—a day in the life of one of the top research library systems in the country. The Duke University Libraries employ more than 200 people full-time and scores of part-time student workers and interns. Some work on the front lines, many more behind the scenes. But they all come together to support the teaching and research needs of the entire Duke community. It’s all in a day’s work.

Smith Warehouse: Paula Jeannet, Visual Materials Processing Archivist, holds an original print by photographer Danny Lyon, whose iconic images of the 1960s Civil Rights movement were recently acquired by the Rubenstein Library (see story in this issue). Jeannet has worked here for over thirty years, during which time countless fascinating collections have crossed her desk. Lyon’s photos are the last collection she will process before she retires in December.
von der Heyden Pavilion, Perkins Library: Students hit the books (and laptops) at “the Perk,” the popular café and meet-up spot at Perkins Library.
Photography Gallery, Rubenstein Library: Documentary photographer Earl Dotter explores an exhibit of his own photographs from the 1970s documenting the lives of Appalachian coal workers. Dotter had just given a talk in the library about his long career photographing American workers, especially those who labor in dangerous and unhealthy conditions. His papers and photographs were recently acquired by the Rubenstein Library’s Archive of Documentary Arts.
Rubenstein Library Classroom: A statistics class visits the Rubenstein Library to get an up-close look at the history of data visualization. Some 194 classes visited the Rubenstein last year for instruction sessions, reaching roughly one-third of all undergraduates at Duke.
Perkins Library Main Floor: Alex Konecky, Access and Library Services Assistant, assists a library patron at the Perkins Library Service Desk. Last year, library staff handled over 8,000 one-on-one interactions with patrons, spanning research assistance, circulation and directional questions, technology assistance, and more.
Smith Warehouse: Materials on carts wait to be shipped to a commercial bindery, in nearby Greensboro, North Carolina, where they will be given a hardback cover. Libraries often bind together issues of periodicals to make them more convenient to use, less likely to go missing, and sturdier on the shelf. We also bind books with properties that make them more subject to physical damage, like being unusually tall, small, thick, thin, or just plain floppy.
Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab, Perkins Library: Library books don’t always age gracefully. They get dropped, their spines crack, and their pages get penciled and stained from years of usage. When that happens, they go to the Conservation Lab to be repaired. Senior Conservation Technician Jovana Ivezic works with a simple brush, glue, and book press to rebind volumes whose bindings have come undone.
Tarasoff Meeting Room, Perkins Library: Staff from Duke Employee Occupational Health and Wellness administer free flu shots in Perkins Library, part of a university-wide effort to fight the flu.
Rubenstein Library Stacks: An oversized case in the Rubenstein Library accommodates items like maps, posters, and other jumbo-sized documents that are too large to be shelved normally and must be laid flat or rolled up.
Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library: A panel discussion is underway about Birthing Black Mothers, a new book by Jennifer C. Nash, Jean Fox O’Barr Distinguished Professor of Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies at Duke (third from right). The event was the latest in a series highlighting notable books by Duke faculty.
Gravatt Seminar Room, Rubenstein Library: At a meeting of the Libraries’ senior leadership team, Aaron Pruka, Community Service Officer with Duke Police (second from left), discusses an upcoming safety presentation for library staff. As some of the most high-traffic and high-occupancy buildings on campus, Duke’s libraries have unique safety considerations, and it’s important that all staff know what to do in case of emergency.
Smith Warehouse: Dan Maxwell, Senior Library Assistant in Monograph Acquisitions, works his way through a cart of books waiting to be copy cataloged. Maxwell is one of nine library employees who have worked here for 35 years or more. Commitment like that is unusual in today’s work culture but it says something about the kind of place this is. Working in a library comes with many rewards, not least of which is a genuine appreciation for things that last. You could even say it informs nearly everything we do.
Music Library: Streaming music is convenient, but some recordings are only available in legacy formats. At this listening station, library users can play CDs, DVDs, VCR cassettes, audio cassettes, and even laser discs (remember those?).
Smith Warehouse: Vivian Sekandi, a sophomore at Duke and library student employee, scans foreign language materials that will be outsourced for cataloging. The Libraries employ scores of student workers every year. From scanning documents to shelving journals, and answering common questions for patrons, students assist in almost every aspect of our day-to-day operations.
Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library: A toothbrush tester, part of the Consumer Reports Archive, is one of many unusual artifacts on display at a special Rubenstein Library show-and-tell for students and faculty in the Pratt School of Engineering.
Brandaleone Lab for Data and Visualization Services, Bostock Library: Data Science Librarian John Little helps a student with a research question. Last year our Center for Data and Visualization Sciences logged a record number of one-on-one consultations, assisting 1,726 different individuals across 36 academic departments with research data questions.
Digital Production Studio, Perkins Library: Digitization Specialist Aaron Canipe scans a beautiful Rubenstein Library copy of Alfred Tennyson’s book-length poem “In Memoriam,” illuminated by Phoebe Anna Traquair. Once digitized, high-resolution scans of the document will be sent to the researcher who requested them.
Smith Warehouse: Well-thumbed titles on book history, historical printers, book bindings, and related topics serve as a handy reference shelf for the Rubenstein Library’s Technical Services team, who work with materials that encompass the full range of print history, from ancient to modern times.
Staff Workroom, Rubenstein Library: Rubenstein staff use the workroom to review archival materials to be used in upcoming classes visiting the library. Research Services Librarian Brooke Guthrie (left) prepares materials on the history of data visualization for a statistics class later that day, while Josh Larkin Rowley (center), Reference Archivist with the Hartman Center, pulls together historical ads for a class on the psychology of consumer advertising. Meanwhile, Research Services Librarian Kate Collins (right) tracks down the answer to a question submitted by a researcher.
Pearse Memorial Library, Duke Marine Lab, Beaufort, NC: Jodi Psoter, Librarian for Marine Sciences and Head of the Duke Marine Lab Library, is paid a visit by Latke, who stopped by the library to help his owner pick up a book. Latke belongs to Gabrielle Carmine, a Ph.D. student in the Nicholas School of the Environment, and is a regular fixture at Marine Lab events. (Photo by Jeff Priddy)
Smith Warehouse: Stephen Conrad, Team Lead for Western Languages in Monographic Acquisitions, demonstrates that you can pack a lot of personality—and Halloween spirit—into not a lot of workspace.
Facilities and Distribution Services Department, Perkins Library: Facilities Coordinator Kyle Jeffers (left) and Daniel Walker, Facilities Manager (right), load the delivery truck for the daily run, distributing books and other materials requested by patrons to library locations across campus.
Rubenstein Library Stacks: Jargo James, a first-year at Duke and library student employee, takes a dust rag to shelves in the Rubenstein Library’s secure stack area. Though few people think about it, dusting must be done every few years to keep Duke’s priceless research collections in good order and prevent important historical documents from deteriorating.
Staff Workroom, Rubenstein Library: Research Services Librarian Brooke Guthrie shows off the first documented example of a pie chart, by the Scottish engineer and so-called father of statistical graphics William Playfair (1759–1823), who is also credited with inventing the line graph, bar chart, and circle graph. Such curious finds are one of the daily joys of working in a library.
The Link, Perkins Library: A graduate seminar for international students on academic writing meets in a classroom in the Link, a 24,000-square-foot teaching and learning center on the lower level of Perkins Library. Some 177 classes across 41 different academic departments meet every week in the Link, which is also home to the main IT help desk for the university.
The Edge Workshop Room, Bostock Library: Drew Keener, Map and Geospatial Data Specialist, leads a workshop on making story maps in ArcGIS, a software that lets researchers combine interactive maps with narrative text, images, and videos. Workshops offered by our Center for Data and Visualization Sciences are in high demand year-round, especially by students in the Pratt School of Engineering, Nicholas School of the Environment, and School of Medicine.
Outside Perkins Library: A group of prospective students and families stops outside Perkins Library during a campus tour. A familiar sight in the course of another fine day at Duke!